Any well-rounded fitness plan uses both cardio training and strength training. But knowing whether you should do cardio before or after weights can be confusing. Experts say there’s a way to maximize the benefits of both cardio workouts And bodybuilding while staying safe and achieving your goals – and that there are pros and cons to the fitness order you choose.
Before, coaches explain the most efficient order to train.
Should you do cardio before or after weights?
The short answer is: It depends on your goals. When it comes to fitness, we generally work towards strength (or muscle size) and endurance (or cardiovascular health). It’s helpful to understand which of these goals is your priority before deciding whether you should do cardio or weights first.
“Using the holistic view of exercise, the choice to do cardio or weightlifting first comes down to goals and the attitude or mindset of the individual,” explains Jim White, RDN, ACSM Ex-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. These goals usually boil down to building strength or building endurance.
“You need to prioritize and devote more time and energy to the type of training that would benefit your goal the most,” says Kenta Sekicelebrity health and fitness coach.
So if your main goal is to build endurance and focus on losing weight, you need to focus on cardio before you put on weights. And if your main goal is to build strength and muscle, you should do some weight lifting first and finish with cardio.
White agrees, explaining that you might even consider doing cardio and weightlifting on separate days. Ideally, “cardio and weightlifting should be 24 hours apart to effectively maximize strength or endurance,” he explains.
However, Seki notes that to do HIIT workouts (which incorporate both strength training and cardio) may be beneficial for some, as they are great for those short on time and offer a way to improve strength and cardiovascular endurance at the same time.
Still not sure what’s right for you? Below, our experts explain the benefits of doing weights or cardio first in your workout.
Do weights before cardio
By lifting weights first, White notes, you can more easily focus on growing stronger muscles and have more energy to focus on good form, thus avoiding injury. Additionally, White refers to a study This shows that lifting weights first leads to a longer time to exhaustion, which is essentially how long it takes you to feel like you can’t keep exercising.
Seki also explains that doing a light to moderate cardio session after strength training helps increase circulation, “which can potentially decrease muscle soreness” after a workout.
The downsides of lifting weights before a cardio workout mostly come down to your goals. Seki recommends not starting with weightlifting if you’re training for an endurance event, like a long run. “Doing moderate-to-high intensity strength training first can tire your body and mind, and potentially diminish your ability to perform at your best for cardio training later.”
Do cardio before weights
Whether or not you decide to do your cardio exercises first, Seki and White agree that low-intensity cardio is a great way to warm up your muscles before a higher-intensity workout or strength-training routine. Doing cardio first will make your muscles less prone to injury and “prepare your body to do difficult, complex exercises and condition your heart to pump more blood,” says White.
Another reason you might want to do cardio first is if you want to improve your endurance. This “will allow you to maximize your energy and focus to do your best for this cardio workout,” says Seki.
If you plan to do heavy weight training, doing cardio first may put you at a disadvantage. You may not perform as well during your strength exercises if you do too much cardio first. Seki explains that during cardio, we burn glycogen which is “our body’s main fuel source” which is stored in our muscles. And by burning too much of that fuel, the workout that follows often becomes more difficult and, in turn, less effective. White adds that as you tire yourself out during cardio, you become more injury-prone while lifting weights.
Shannen Zitz is associate editor at Prevention, where she covers all things lifestyle, wellness, beauty and relationships. Previously an editorial assistant at Prevention, she graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland with a bachelor’s degree in English. If she’s not reading or writing, you can probably find her frequenting the skincare and makeup forums on Reddit or hogging the squat rack at the gym.